Texas Weather: Sugarcane Aphids Farther North Than Expected

    This year, the sugarcane aphid has been found overwintering much farther north than previously expected, according to Dr. Robert Bowling, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist, Corpus Christi.

    This means the potential for sugarcane aphids on sorghum crops could be higher, not just for South Texas but for the rest of the state as well, Bowling said.

    “Last year the thought was that the sugarcane aphid was not overwintering farther north than Victoria County,” he said. “So far, we’ve found the sugarcane aphid in the majority of South Texas counties from Gonzales County south.

    This year, Bowling initiated an “early warning” project to aggressively scout for overwintering populations of sugarcane aphid in South Texas, he said. Early scouting could provide important information for sorghum producers because the pest overwinters well in South Texas.

    Winged adults move northward on weather fronts from South Texas to infest sorghum fields in the rest of the state, Bowling said. An early warning could give sorghum producers time to look for and control sugarcane aphid infestations before they reach economic injury levels.

    On March 2, Bowling, accompanied by Dwight Sexton, AgriLife Extension agent for Gonzales County, was scouting in that county, he said. He and Sexton found overwintering sugarcane aphids at the first stop they made, on Johnsongrass.

    “Most have been found on Johnsongrass, but some were on sorghum and forage sorghums,” Bowling said.

    Sugarcane aphids were found overwintering on Johnsongrass nearly 70 miles farther north than expected this year, said Dr. Robert Bowling, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist, Corpus Christi. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Robert Bowling)

    Sugarcane aphids were found overwintering on Johnsongrass nearly 70 miles farther north than expected this year, said Dr. Robert Bowling, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist, Corpus Christi. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Robert Bowling)

    Why the expansion of the sugarcane aphid’s overwintering range even though South Texas had a colder than usual winter?

    Bowling posits that it had to do with the timing and severity of the cold fronts that moved through the area.

    “We had the cold fronts moving in late in the season, but temperatures weren’t cold enough to kill the Johnsongrass or the sugarcane aphids.”

    As part of his project, Bowling is preparing to publish a newsletter that will go out to AgriLife Extension agents and specialists throughout Texas. The newsletter will be published twice a month and will be available on the Corpus Christi AgriLife website.

    AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    Central: Overall, soil moisture, rangeland, pastures, livestock and crops were in good condition. Corn and forage sorghum were being planted, along with some grain sorghum and sunflowers. Pecan trees budded, and growers started fertilizing orchards. Moisture and warm weather resulted in good winter forage growth. Coastal Bermuda grass fields began greening up. Wheat continued to be infested by leaf rust in many fields. Cattle remained in good condition with the improved grazing conditions.

    Coastal Bend: Conditions dried out enough to enable farmers to resume planting corn, grain sorghum, rice and cotton. Some were having to work around low spots in fields, with the intention of planting later. Earlier-planted corn was in good condition and benefiting from the drier, warmer days. Wheat was also in good condition and was heading out nicely. Well-managed pastures were radiantly green and growing rapidly. Most ponds were full. Livestock were doing well.

    East: Warmer days and nights along with sunny days turned pastures around. Ryegrass and clovers were doing very well, with warm-season grasses beginning to break dormancy and green up too. Fruit trees and flowers were blooming. In Henderson County, soils remained saturated, which halted all planting and seedbed preparation. In Houston County, cotton producers were still unable to get into the fields to plant. If Houston County farmers can’t plant by the April 15 crop insurance deadline, there will likely be no cotton grown there. Most pastures remained too wet for even tractors to drive through. Subsoil and topsoil moisture were surplus in most counties. Lakes and ponds were full to overflowing. Producers were allowing cattle to graze intensively heavily and stopped supplemental feeding. Cattle were in good condition. Producers were weaning and selling market-ready calves, and working new crop calves. Feral hogs were active.

    Far West: Windy and warmer conditions resulted in high wildfire danger. There was little to no rain received. Subsoil and topsoil moisture were adequate to short. Pasture and rangeland were in fair condition and starting to green up. Cattle were doing well, with most herds in the middle or near the end of calving season. Goats were starting to kid. Winter wheat was in fair condition. Grain sorghum was planted. Oats were in good to poor condition. Alfalfa growers took the first cutting.

    North: Topsoil moisture was mostly adequate to surplus after 1 to 2 inches of rain. However, windy weather was drying things out fast. Wheat, oats and pastures were much improved after a few days of sunshine. Soils dried out enough to allow for some fieldwork, including preparing for corn and sorghum planting. Also, some cattle producers were able to start working calves. Cool-season grasses and legumes were doing well and being grazed. Bermuda grass pastures started to green up. Livestock were doing well. Wild hogs continued to cause damage. Mosquito numbers were increasing. There were reports of small grasshoppers.

    Panhandle: The district had above-average temperatures and windy weather with no precipitation. Soil moisture was rated mostly adequate to short. Farmers were preparing fields for planting, fertilizing and applying herbicides. Ranchers began spring roundups and weaning calves. Corn planting was only a few short weeks away, and seed companies were delivering corn seed to producers. The wheat crop was holding up well, but forecasts predicted temperatures would soon reach into the mid-80’s. Unless there is rain, dryland wheat could suffer. Irrigated wheat was actively growing, and center pivots were already running. Some cattle were taken off irrigated wheat, but were left on dryland wheat. Cattle were making great gains. Lipscomb County wheat was infested with pale western cutworms, armyworms, greenbugs and Russian wheat aphids, and it needed rain. Some producers were attempting to control the pests, while others waited for rain to see if the crop was worth the expense of treating. Ochiltree County wheat was deteriorating very fast. Cattle were in fair condition. Summer perennials in pastures were breaking dormancy.

    Rolling Plains: Spring weather arrived bringing showers and winds. A few thunderstorms brought some much-needed moisture. Lightning accompanied the storms and started a few wildfires. Although the wildfires affected only small acreages, they were a reminder that wildfires remained a threat, especially with the large amounts of dried forages left from last year. Pastures and rangeland began to green up, and producers were hoping the rains didn’t stop. Farmers were becoming more pessimistic concerning this year’s cotton crop and were opting to plant less cotton. Cotton planting should begin around May 1. Livestock were in good condition with plenty of grazing still available. Ranchers were starting to repopulate herds, and spring calving was looking good. Most stock-water tanks and lakes still needed runoff water. Peach trees were past bloom and leafed out.

    South: Temperatures warmed throughout the region. The northern and eastern parts of the region had light to moderate showers. The southern parts of the region had heavy rains that further delayed planting. In the northern parts of the region, hay crop producers were gearing up for planting. Strawberries were being harvested. There were some reports of wheat rust. Corn and sorghum planting continued. Potatoes were flowering. Warm-season perennial grasses were beginning to respond to warmer temperatures and good soil moisture conditions. Soil moisture was mostly adequate in all counties. In the eastern part of the region, not much corn was being planted due to saturated soils. Scattered showers kept rangeland and pastures in good condition for livestock grazing, but some rangeland areas had been taken over by weeds. Jim Wells Co unty had as much as 8 inches of rain from one thunderstorm, which further delayed planting. Soil moisture ranged from 30 to 50 percent adequate in Duval County to 100 percent adequate in Jim Wells and McMullen counties. In the western part of the region, warmer temperatures allowed crop producers to plant and prepare for the first cutting of Coastal Bermuda grass hay. Wheat and oats were heading out nicely. Spinach harvesting continued, and growers were preparing to plant watermelons and cantaloupes. As much as 90 percent of cotton planting was completed. Sorghum and corn were 100 percent emerged. Soil moisture conditions were 90 percent adequate in Dimmit County, 50 percent adequate in Maverick County, 70 to 75 percent short in Zapata County and 100 percent short in Zavala County. In the southern part of the region, planting began early in the week but was later halted by heavy rains. Citrus and vegetable harvesting continued as weather allowed. Soil moisture was 100 percent adequate in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, 80 percent surplus in Willacy County, and 60 to 80 percent short in Starr County.

    South Plains: The region had warmer weather, with gusty winds drying out topsoils. Most counties could have used some significant precipitation to fill the soil profile for the upcoming cotton crop. A plethora of aphid species were attacking winter and spring crops, but no disease was spotted. Swisher County winter wheat desperately needed moisture, and some irrigators were starting to pump. Most producers were rushing to apply residual and preplant herbicides. Some were pre-watering for cotton planting. Wheat continued to progress, with most fields in the jointing stage. Cochran County had dropping levels of subsoil and topsoil moisture, with wheat, pasture and rangeland grasses beginning to show signs of stress. Garza County rangeland and pastures were mostly in good condition. Winter wheat in Mitchell County was growing really well after March rain and heavy dews.

    Southeast: Soil moisture varied widely, but was mostly adequate to surplus. Rangeland and pasture ratings mostly varied from excellent to good, with fair ratings being the most common. Pastures were doing well. Vegetable planting was in full swing. Fields in some areas were finally dry enough for producers to make significant progress in planting corn and sorghum. Small grains were beginning to head out, and cool-season forages were growing rapidly thanks to available moisture. With warm soils and higher night temperatures, corn and sorghum were quick to emerge and begin growing. Some producers began cotton planting. Livestock were in good condition with the warm-season grasses coming on.

    Southwest: Grass was greening up, and trees and brush were budding and leafing out. More rain was needed, but the region was experiencing the best spring it has had in years. Farmers were cultivating fields for spring planting, fertilizing pastures and applying herbicides. Corn planting was completed, and grain sorghum planting was wrapping up. Livestock and wildlife were in good condition with improved nutrition from the spring green-up. The recent rains also provided much-needed forage for sheep and goats.

    West Central: The region had spring-like weather with warm days, mild nighttime temperatures and continued occasional showers. Soil moisture remained adequate. Field activity increased, with producers plowing ground and spraying weeds in preparation for the upcoming spring cotton planting. Grain sorghum planting was completed. Winter wheat remained in good condition. Some fields were showing slight heat stress. Signs of rust were apparent in some wheat fields. Rangeland and pastures were in very good condition and continued to improve with the growth of plenty of green cool-season grasses and forbs. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Supplemental feeding of livestock was slowing as grazing improved. Pecan trees were budding out.

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